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People choosing to ditch their masks will be a ‘gradual process’: Doctor

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Dr. Alice Chen, General Internist in Washington, D.C. & Former Executive Director with Doctors for America, joins Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers and Alexis Christoforous to discuss the latest on the coronavirus pandemic.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: The CDC abruptly changed its guidance yesterday on masks and social distancing, saying people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 don't have to wear masks outdoors or indoors. And they don't have to keep distance from one another. Well, there are lots of questions now surrounding all that. We are joined by Dr. Alice Chen. She's joining us with some answers, Dr. Chen, as a general internist in Washington, DC and former executive director with Doctors for America. Dr. Chen, good to see you again. So I have been fully vaccinated, I'm happy to say. Does that mean I could just throw my mask out?

ALICE CHEN: Well, it's-- the CDC is now saying-- basically, what the CDC has said is that the vaccines are working really well. They're working really well for protecting you against COVID, for protecting people around you from getting COVID. They're protecting us against the variants that are circulating around this country. So that's all the good news. And that's why they said, OK, look, folks can choose to get rid of your mask and get together with folks indoors or outdoors.

I think for a lot of us-- I mean, we've all been living through this pandemic. We know that people are still getting COVID, people are still dying from COVID. And so I think that it will be a bit of a gradual process for a lot of folks as to, do I still wear my mask at the grocery store? Do I not? I think you don't have to throw away your mask. You're welcome to continue wearing yours. And I think a lot of people probably will for some time.

KRISTIN MYERS: I'm curious to know, as we see vaccine hesitancy on the rise, as we see demand now lower than supply, which is a bit of a reversal from what we had seen before, do you think that the CDC coming out and saying, OK, if you feel comfortable and you've been fully vaccinated, you can now take your mask off indoors and outdoors, do you think that will inspire some people to go out and get the shot? Because they see, you know, there is a benefit to doing it.

ALICE CHEN: So I mean, I think-- so one thing to note is that hesitancy is actually going down. It's just that the portion of people who are not vaccinated who are hesitant to-- we have that sort of portion of people to work with. I think that, you know-- I'm so sorry, I just forgot what did you ask me.

KRISTIN MYERS: It's Friday, doctor. I totally understand. I'm curious to know if you think that more and more people will be willing to get the vaccine because they know that there is these benefits to it just outside of being protected from the coronavirus, but that they'll also be allowed to take that mask off indoors if they want.

ALICE CHEN: So I do hope that there will be kind of a double sort of incentive for folks that they will see that, like, oh, wow, like, the CDC is now saying this shot, like, really, really works, not just for me, but also for the people around me. Because I have heard people say, like, well, does it really work? I still have to take a-- I still have to wear a mask. Is it really going to protect me? And so there's the answer to that question. And then I think a lot of people are very eager to take off their masks and be able to be more normal again. So I do hope that it will incentivize some folks to go ahead and get the shot.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Doctor, what's happening with the New York Yankees is sort of the talk of the town right now. Eight of their members who have been fully vaccinated with the J&J vaccine wound up getting COVID. Seven out of the eight were asymptomatic. What's the takeaway for folks from that situation? And does it mean that how likely are we are, if we are fully vaccinated, that we can infect other people. And I ask selfishly because I have a young person in my household who's not yet vaccinated. Everybody else is. You know, how likely is it that we may be asymptomatic, but wind up giving this virus to somebody else?

ALICE CHEN: So this is a big question, I think, on the minds of a lot of folks, especially folks who are parents like you and me. And the-- so far, the data is looking very good that once you are vaccinated, even if you get asymptomatic COVID, you're not that likely to pass it along to somebody else. There's just not that much virus in your nose for it to just spread to other folks.

For me, the big takeaway for the Yankees story is that eight people are to have tested positive, and seven of them have no symptoms. This is exactly what we want, is that you get a vaccine and even if you come in contact with COVID, you have no symptoms, you go on with your life. And that's what the hope is with the entire vaccination campaign, is that we can stop people going to the hospital, stop people dying, stop people having the long COVID effects that once people are vaccinated, that we're protected from all of those aspects.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, so, doctor, when I think about baseball, I end up thinking about, for some reason, the fall, which I'm going to just circle this back to the fact that I think about school. And I know a lot of parents are-- I am not one of them, but I know Alexis has said on this program-- she cannot wait until schools are reopened again. She is not alone. So many parents have said that.

We now have the vaccine available for teenagers or at least 12 to 15. Schools reopen, considering we now have this vaccine available. I know many parents are a little bit hesitant to make sure that their children get that vaccine. But are we in a place right now with at least the amount of adults that have been vaccinated that we can reopen all the schools again?

ALICE CHEN: I mean, I think the data has been pretty clear that when schools follow sort of-- the kids are not-- mostly not vaccinated. And so the schools are following masking and social distancing. And they're doing the contact tracing. Then it's pretty safe for kids and teachers to be back in school. I think that will-- it become even safer as more people get vaccinated, not just the kids, but the adults.

In Israel, we saw that as the vaccination numbers went up, the case numbers just kind of started to plummet. And we're starting to see that here as well, is that our case numbers are coming down. And so, the more people are vaccinated, the less virus there is out there. And the safer it will be for our kids in school to do all the things that kids like to do, run and play, and just be close to each other.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right, we're going to talk more about that in depth in the next hour when Randi Weingarten, the head of the second largest teacher's union, joins the program. Dr. Alice Chen, thanks so much for being with us. Have a good weekend.